(Movie review written in 2005)
Before bulking up to play Batman in this Summer's "Batman Begins", actor Christian Bale ("Reign of Fire") took off 60 pounds (although it looks like practically 80+ - Bale, previously tall and fairly thin, only got much thinner) to play a machinist who, as far as he knows, has not slept in a year. Bale's Trent Reznik spends his days the same way: he goes to work, he goes to eat in the same diner and chats with the same waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) or visits with the same prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the latter telling Trevor that, "If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist."
His co-workers are a little freaked out by him, and his boss calls him in one day and what starts off as concern slowly veers into questioning - is he on drugs? One day he's working on one of the heavy machines in the shop and gets distracted, causing a co-worker to have a serious accident. Reznik thinks that he's seeing a new worker in the shop, but no one knows of anyone that even vaguely resembles who he's talking about. Someone starts leaving post-its on his refrigerator. Is someone trying to tell him something? Is he crazy? What is Reznik doing in the opening, dumping something in the water? The less said about what happens, the better.
Not a great deal happens during the middle portion of "The Machinist", yet the movie still stays impressively rich and engaging. Bale's extraordinary transformation is eerily fascinating, but the performance is also first-rate, as the actor capably portrays a man who doesn't know how to wake up from his dark reality. Leigh and Gijon provide excellent supporting performances, as well.
Director Brad Anderson previously helmed the interesting "Session 9", a horror picture that wasn't really graphic, but gained tension and chills from the cinematography and the fact that the flick was filmed inside a massive, rotting, old psych hospital. He creates another universe for "The Machinist", and one that's about as creepy. Beautifully shot and utilizing a palette of washed-out and steely colors, "The Machinist" offers haunting visual after haunting visual.
Anderson's films have never exactly taken off with audiences, but he continues to improve and "The Machinist" is - in my opinion - his finest work yet. This is a quietly powerful and riveting feature that's lead by Bale's great effort.
VIDEO: Whether on new releases or catalog titles, Paramount continues to produce excellent Blu-Ray presentations - while "The Machinist" does show a few mild concerns, this is otherwise another superb transfer from the studio. Sharpness and detail are often outstanding, as the picture has a smooth, glassy clarity that's impressive, even in the film's shadowy/dimly-lit scenes. Fine details (hairs, the texture of an apartment wall, etc) look crisply presented and there's often quite good depth to the image, as well.
It's difficult to find much fault with the presentation, aside from some noticeable specks on the print in a few scenes. However, most of the film looked pristine, with no edge enhancement or other issues of note. The very subdued color palette seemed accurately rendered, with no issues. Black level remained strong, as well.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film's sound mix wasn't aggressive, but it also really had no need to be. Surrounds do kick in for some minor ambience and sound effects, but the majority of the audio is spread nicely across the front soundstage. Small, subtle details seemed a tad clearer on the TrueHD presentation, but it otherwise didn't seem to offer much of an upgrade over the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from director Brad Anderson. The most interesting tidbit comes fairly early on, when Anderson notes that he did not instruct Bale to lose 63 pounds - Bale started losing weight and just kept on going. The remainder of the commentary is also quite interesting, as the director discusses shooting on location in Spain, working with Bale and what attracted him to the screenplay (this is the first film Anderson directed that he didn't write.)
"Manifesting the Machinist" and "The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight" (both are presented in HD) are documentaries (both running at total of 46 minutes or so) that do not appear to be newly created supplements, but were not included on the DVD edition. "Manifesting" is an overview of the production, starting with difficulty finding an interested backer, given the unique nature of the material. We also learn more about filming in Spain (and Anderson decided to use the crew from Spain on his next feature), Bale's weight loss and more. "Hiding in Plain Sight" is a shorter documentary, looking into some of the little "puzzle pieces" scattered throughout the movie.
Also included are 8 deleted scenes, "Breaking the Rules" (the very good 25-minute "making of" documentary that was offered on the prior release) and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: Remarkably involving and unsettling, "The Machinist" is an impressively quiet, yet tense thriller. Bale's extraordinary weight loss doesn't overshadow his performance, which is superb. Paramount's DVD edition provides good audio/video, as well as a few supplements. While the rather dark "Machinist" isn't for everyone, I'd recommend it to people looking for a twisty mystery. The Blu-Ray edition offers a very nice upgrade in regards to video quality, as well as slightly improved audio and a couple of new extras.
The Film B+